Part 6 out of 6
endure, as the shape, with a shrug, gave us to understand.
"You see, mesdames, I was jailor here, years ago, when all La Merveille
was a prison. Ah! those were great days for the Mont! There were
soldiers and officers who came up to look at the soldiers, and the
soldiers--it was their business to look after the prisoners. The
Emperor himself came here once--I saw him. What a sight!--Dieu! all the
monks and priests and nuns, and the archbishop himself were out. What
banners and crosses and flags! The cannon was like a great thunder--and
the greve was red with soldiers. Ah, those were days! Dieu--why
couldn't the republic have continued those glories--_ces gloires?
Aujourd'hui nous ne sommes que des morts_--instead of prisoners to
handle--to watch and work, like so many good machines there is only the
dike yonder to keep in repair! What changes--mon Dieu! what changes!"
And the shape wrung his hands. It was, in truth, a touching spectacle
of grief for a good old past.
An old priest, with equally saddened vision, once came to take his
seat, quite easily and naturally, beside us, on our favorite perch. He
was one of the little band of priests who had remained faithful to the
Mont after the government had dispersed his brothers--after the
monastery had been broken up. He and his four or five companions had
taken refuge in a small house, close by the cemetery; it was they who
conducted the services in the little parish church; who had gathered
the treasures still grouped together in that little interior--the
throne of St. Michel, with its blue draperies and the golden
fleur-de-lis, the floating banners and the shields of the Knights of
St. Michel, the relics, and wondrous bits of carving rescued from the
splendors of the cathedral.
"_Ah, mesdames--que voulez-vous?_" was the old priest's broken chant;
he was bewailing the woes that had come to his order, to religion, to
France. "What will you have? The history of nations repeats itself, as
we all know. We, of our day, are fallen on evil times; it is the reign
of image-breakers--nothing is sacred, except money."
"France has worn herself out. She is like an old man, the hero of many
battles, who cares only for his easy chair and his slippers. She does
not care about the children who are throwing stones at the windows. She
likes to snooze, in the sun, and count her money-bags. France is too
old to care about religion, or the future--she is thinking how best to
be comfortable--here in this world, when she has rheumatism and a cramp
in the stomach!" And the old priest wrapped his own _soutane_ about his
lean knees, suiting his gesture to his inward convictions.
Was the priest's summary the last word of truth about modern France? On
the sands that lay below at our feet, we read a different answer.
The skies were still brilliantly lighted. The actual twilight had not
come yet, with its long, deep glow, a passion of color that had a
longer life up here on the heights than when seen from a lower level.
This twilight hour was always a prolonged moment of transfiguration for
The very last evening of our stay, we chose this as the loveliest light
in which to see the last of the hill. On that evening, I remember, the
reds and saffrons in the sky were of an astonishing richness. The sea
wall, the bastions, the faces of the great rocks, the yellow broom that
sprang from the clefts therein, were dyed as in a carmine bath. In that
mighty glow of color, all things took on something of their old, their
stupendous splendor. The giant walls were paved with brightness. The
town, climbing the hill, assumed the proportions of a mighty citadel;
the forest tree-tops were prismatic, emerald balls flung beneath the
illumined Merveille; and the Cathedral was set in a daffodil frame; its
aerial _escalier de dentelle_, like Jacob's ladder, led one easily
heavenward. The circling birds, in the lace-work of the spiral finials,
sang their night songs, as the glow in the sky changed, softened,
This was the world that was in the west.
Toward the east, on the flat surface of the sands, this world cast a
strange and wondrous shadow. Jagged rocks, a pyramidal city, a Gothic
cathedral in mid-air--behold the rugged outlines of Mont St. Michel
carving their giant features on the shifting, sensitive surface of the
In the little pools and the trickling rivers, the fishermen--from this
height, Liliputians grappling with Liliputian meshes--were setting
their nets for the night. Across the river-beds, peasant women and
fishwives, with bared legs and baskets clasped to their bending backs,
appeared and disappeared--shapes that emerged into the light only to
vanish into the gulf of the night.
In was in these pictures that we read our answer.
Like Mont St. Michel, so has France carried into the heights of history
her glory and her power. On every century, she, like this world in
miniature, has also cast her shadow, dwarfing some, illuminating
others. And, as on those distant sands the toiling shapes of the
fishermen are to be seen, early and late, in summer and winter, so can
France point to her people, whose industry and amazing talent for toil
have made her, and maintain her, great.
Some of these things we have learned, since, in Normandy Inns, we have
sat at meat with her peasants, and have grown to be friends with her